Parma, home of Proscuitto di Parma was the perfect place to revive The Cured Ham.
For my first real meal in Italy, I chose Osteria Dello Zingaro. Within 5 minutes walking of my apartment, it was an easy choice after browsing about a half-dozen restaurants in my immediate area.
Upon the entry of guests and the response from the owner, there appears to be lots of locals, lots of regulars. Taking that cue, everyone starts with some form of cured meat, culatello, Proscuitto, and or salami, with sides of various roasted vegetables and large chunks of Parmigiano. Wine is also ubiquitous, with several bottles of Lambrusco being consumed.
Not one to turn down cured meat, naturally, I had a plate. The salami was served skin-on, which automatically suggested, eat this meat with you hands and peel the skin for yourself. A fairly typical salami, nothing more than salt and pepper. The Proscuitto was the highlight of the plate. Creaminess and depth. All the meats are displayed at room temperature, with a single, dedicated hand to slice everything, repeatedly and efficiently throughout the night.
My second course was pasta. Simple, arugula and ricotta stuffing, with a sauce of butter and grated parmigiano. That's all. How can a dish these days be this simple? When all the elements are executed properly. No fancy garnish. No surprise filling. No complex sauce making. Bringing together the simplicity for some chefs and many customers is difficult, however, I find it refreshing.
My final course was a trio of Cavallo, yes, for those who are not Italian, Cavallo equals Horse. And before people freak out, it's a local delicacy and the Italians would think no differently to serve a pig as they would a horse or cute little deer for dinner. Cavallo Tartare served with a simple salt and pepper, while the second was spiced up considerably more with a hot pepper, Tabasco like flavor and then mixed with raw egg, which made it considerably more rich The third preparation was sliced whole loin, quickly seasoned and seared, then allowed to rest cold and then seasoned with olive oil. One of the staff suggested roasted potatoes with my trio.
My favorite tartare, upon first bites, was the spicy and enriched with egg, more classic in preparation. However, with my roasted potatoes, the seared loin stood out. The more basic salt and pepper variety of tartare was my least favorite, not because it was poorly prepared, quite the opposite, it was beautiful in color to the eye and gave me a sense for how lean and clean Cavallo can be, it was obviously the purest expression of the three, uncooked and a minimum of ingredients; it probably could have used olive oil to richen it up.
Irony. I love the pasta for its simplicity yet I choose the most heavily seasoned tartare for it's complexity. There are no absolutes. And it's not as though the tartare with Tabasco and egg were untraditional or overly complex.
I finished my evening at Zingaro, standing at the counter, talking with the owner and watching the slicing skills at the salami bar. I finished with a grappa, on the house, as a thank you from the owner.
A perfect welcome to Italy.